October 11, 2011: The new Russian anti-aircraft missile system, the S-500, continues to suffer development delays. It was recently revealed that the S-500 was a full two years behind schedule, with prototype testing not taking place until 2015, with deliveries in 2017. Much of the delay is due to the fact that this system uses a lot of new technology.
The S-500 is not an upgrade of the current S-400, but a new design. With a range of 600 kilometers, this missile is designed to hit ballistic missile warheads, at altitudes as high as 40 kilometers (124,000 feet). The S-500 can also go after AWACS aircraft. Russia plans to purchase ten S-500 battalions. These units are mobile, with all equipment carried in large trucks. The missiles, for example, are carried and launched from 10x10 trucks.
Meanwhile, it was only last year that the first S-400 battalion was deployed. Earlier this year, the second and third S-400 anti-aircraft missile battalions entered service. One battalion went to the Far East, the other to Moscow. The S-400 is also known as the S-300PMU-3, SA-21 or Triumf.
This new version of the S-300 pays particular attention to electronic countermeasures that the Americans might have, or be developing. The missiles are also physically larger and have longer range. Three years ago, Russia announced that the first S-400 had entered service around Moscow. But that didn't actually happen, and development work continued until test firings of the missiles were successful. Each S-400 battalion has eight launchers, each with two missiles, plus a control center and radar.
The S-400 is similar to the U.S. Patriot, and is expensive. Russia is now offering to export the S-400, despite all the advanced technology in it. The S-400 missiles weigh 1.8 tons each and are 8.4 meters (26 feet) long and about 50cm (20 inches) in diameter. The missiles have a range of some 400 kilometers, and can hit targets as high as 32 kilometers (100,000 feet). The missile has a 145.5 kg (320 pound) warhead. The target acquisition radar has a range of 700 kilometers.
The S-400 has over five times the range of the U.S. Patriot, weighs twice as much and claims the ability to detect stealthy aircraft. The S-400 also has an anti-missile capability, which is limited to shorter range (3,500 kilometers) ballistic missiles. That would mean a warhead coming in at about 5,000 meters a second (the longer the range of a ballistic missile, the higher its re-entry speed.) S-500 can handle faster, and longer range, ballistic missiles.
The S-400 system actually has two types of missiles, one of them being a smaller, with a shorter range (120 kilometers). These are deployed four to a launcher, like all other S-300 systems. The S-400 has no combat experience, but U.S. intelligence believes that the tests these systems have undergone indicate it is a capable air defense weapon. Just how capable won't be known until it actually gets used in combat.
The S-400 is sometimes described as an improved version of the S-300. Basically, it is. This is how Russia prefers to develop weapons, making incremental improvements on a basic design, and doing so for decades if the system continues to be successful. The S-500 is a break from that pattern.